In self-care discourse online, we often talk about the soft work of self-care. Things like removing anything from our lives that disrupts our peace, getting the right people at our table (and removing the ones who don’t belong there), and so on. Notice I call this soft work, not easy work. Even the soft work of self-care is quite hard.
I call it the soft work of self-care because it is emotionally gentle. It is about protecting ourselves from things that hurt, that bruise. It is, at its core, self-care as a shield. Today, I’d like to discuss the more rigorous work of self-care; the kind that doesn’t evoke feelings of gentleness, but rather, feelings of strength. This work is decidedly harder than the soft work of self-care. And that’s why I suspect that many people on self-care journeys never make it to this part. They stay forever anchored to the soft work, and they miss out on all the growth and self-improvement that comes from the rigorous work.
Are You Resilient?
Resilience is the ability to recover or bounce back from difficulties, setbacks, or adversity. It involves adapting positively to challenges, stress, or traumatic experiences. A resilient person can withstand and navigate through tough situations, maintaining psychological strength and emotional well-being. Resilience doesn’t mean avoiding stress or hardship; instead, it involves facing and overcoming them, often emerging stronger and more capable as a result.
Is resilient a word you would use to define yourself? Because I’ll be honest, I’m not sure if I can call myself resilient. I mean, I am resilient in some ways. I bounce back from disappointments pretty well. I can withstand a fair amount of physical pain, and I think I’m a pretty resilient person in my relationships with friends and family. But I have noticed a profound area of fragility (the lack of resilience) in one area of my life. And since this area of my life is directly tied to my profession, it’s something I really need to do battle with.
I am incredibly sensitive to online criticism. Since I post daily, multiple times a day, to multiple online platforms, I receive a lot of love and a lot of hate. I wish I could say I’ve mastered the art of not taking the negativity personally, but I can’t. I am often incredibly triggered by the activity in my own comment sections. And that really, really sucks.
The Difficult Work of Building Resilience
I’ve realized that I have played a part in this lack of resilience when it comes to my online activities. You see, I’ve always been an advocate for deleting any comments that disrupt your peace. I hold that standard for myself, too, and will happily delete any comment that makes me feel hurt or unhappy. I don’t need your shitty energy here, thank you very much, I say to myself as I delete their comment from my awareness forever.
But a question I’ve begun to ask myself is: what if this soft act of self-care, this choice to protect my peace, is actually robbing me of the chance to grow, to become stronger, to gain resilience? If I allowed myself to “do business” with these comments, so to speak, would I eventually learn how to not be hurt by them?
So, I have reticently begun this work—the harder, but potentially more gratifying work of self-care. For me, that work means simply refusing to delete comments that hurt my feelings. In a non-scientific form of exposure therapy, I am forcing myself to experience those comments. To feel them. And then, to do nothing about them. I don’t engage with them because hell if I’m going to welcome more of that energy into my life. I simply leave it there, untouched, un-responded to. Sometimes (and only when I’m in a good headspace), I go back to those comments and re-read them, letting them wash over me. Why? Because every time I show myself someone’s mean or insulting comment and the world doesn’t end, I teach myself that I can withstand negative comments. More importantly, I teach myself that words literally cannot hurt me. The more I expose myself to these words that are meant to hurt and discover that nothing changes—not my value, or my worth, or my love for myself—the more resilient I become.
This is just one area of my life where I need to work on building resilience. I’m sure there are many more. What are the areas of your life that need resilience? If you’re not sure, start be examining areas in your life where you find yourself most deeply triggered. Maybe it’s in your dialog with a parent or an in-law. Maybe it’s at your job. Or perhaps it’s something personal that you’ve always been deeply sensitive about. Once you’ve identified that thing, I challenge you to begin making steps to gain resilience toward it. It doesn’t have to be through my weird, self-flagellating form of exposure therapy. It just needs to be something that pushes you out of your comfort zone.
It Can Only Be Done When You’re Ready
The important thing to keep in mind about this difficult work of self-care is that only you can know when it’s time to begin it. Many of us require that time for soft self-care, the time when we are gentle with our spirits. It is good and healthy to protect ourselves from things that harm our peace, especially when we are working on loving ourselves again, or perhaps, for the first time. The hard work of building resilience can only come when we’ve done the work of building up our self-esteem and self-worth.
So, maybe you’re not there yet. Maybe now is still the time for soft self-care. But when you’re ready, I urge you to begin working on building your resilience. Protecting our peace is how we heal. Becoming resilient is how we grow.
Wishing you, dear reader, both the healing and the growth.
Amber Wardell is a doctor of psychology and author who speaks on women’s issues related to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the free newsletter to get exclusive content delivered to your inbox and to never miss an upload.